Pistons should tank and tank hard

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

At 23-35, the Pistons are 3.5 games out of playoff position, 1.5 games ahead of the NBA’s eighth-worst record and two games ahead of the league’s seventh-worst record.

The Pistons could settle for the NBA’s eighth-worst record and an 82.4% chance of keeping their pick after the lottery. But the seventh-worst record would go much further, upping those odds to 98.1%.

Neither trying to make the playoffs nor tanking successfully will be easy, but tanking is more likely to work.

The eighth-place Atlanta Hawks are on pace to win 37 games. To match that, the Pistons must finish 14-10. Detroit hasn’t had a 24-game streak that strong since 2008-09.

I’m not against the Pistons making the playoffs, even though I believe keeping the pick would be more beneficial to their future. You can’t always look to the future, though.

After four years in the lottery, a postseason berth justifies itself.

But I just don’t believe that the Pistons will make the playoffs, and finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference carries no more satisfaction than finishing 11th. It would just mean losing a valuable asset.

I often hear a few common oppositions to tanking:

1. The Pistons need veterans, not another young player. They’re already too young.

I guess Warren Buffett is too rich, Beyonce too attractive and Terence Tao too smart.

Being young is not a problem. It’s a strength. And it’s not as if getting a higher pick will stop the Pistons from signing a decent veteran with their cap space this summer.

But know how teams like Detroit get really valuable veterans? Drafting them. Seventeen of this season’s 25 All-Stars are playing for their first team.

2. If the Pistons keep their pick this year, they could send Charlotte an even more valuable selection later. The pick is only top-one protected in 2015 and unprotected in 2016.

I’ll take that chance.

With Drummond (20), Monroe (23), Brandon Jennings (24), Kyle Singler (25), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (20) and even Josh Smith (28) forming the Pistons’ core, substantial internal improvements already are likely. Because the Pistons would know they’ll almost certainly lose the pick next year, they’d also focus on building for the present — making a surge forward in 2014-15 even more likely.

3. Tanking isn’t guaranteed to work. Even the NBA’s worst team gets only a 25% chance at the top pick, and draft picks bust all the time.

Show me a plan that is guaranteed to work, and I’ll support that one instead.

The Pistons don’t need the No. 1 pick to justify tanking. They just need a top-eight pick, allowing them to get one more talented rookie before the players already on the roster improve to the point that picking so high is impossible.

Speaking of the players, this should have nothing to do with them.

The decision to tank should come from the top, owner Tom Gores. Gores can bypass team president Joe Dumars, an apparent lame duck who historically has opposed tanking, and address coach John Loyer directly. The coach doesn’t have to like it, but if his boss wants it, Loyer must execute the plan.

The players, though, should always be called upon to play their hardest. Their effort and development should not suffer.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Brandon Jennings Greg Monroe Joe Dumars John Loyer Josh Smith Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Kyle Singler Peyton Siva Tom Gores Tony Mitchell

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